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Cuomo, Biden urge revamp of NY metro area airports

From left to right: U.S. Rep. Grace Meng,

From left to right: U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, Vice President Joe Biden, and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo hold a news conference in a hangar at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in Queens to announce a design competition to modernize four New York airports, Monday, Oct. 20, 2014. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo joined Vice President Joe Biden in Queens Monday to unveil proposals to modernize four New York airports, including Republic Airport in East Farmingdale.

The joint appearance came two weeks before the Nov. 4 gubernatorial election, when Cuomo, a Democrat, will face off against Republican Rob Astorino. Astorino Monday joined Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) in calling for the federal government to block entry to travelers from Ebola-stricken West African nations.

Cuomo, speaking in front of students and faculty at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in Flushing, announced a design competition to overhaul the airports: LaGuardia, Kennedy, Republic and Stewart in Orange County.

The governor said the state is seeking a company interested in serving as a new operator for Republic and will propose creating a 10-year tax-free zone to spur development at the nearly 100-acre site.

"We must modernize our airports if we want to keep our competitive advantage and grow," Cuomo said.

Biden repeated his long-standing call for Congress to increase federal spending on infrastructure improvements, and lauded Cuomo for his vision. "These are economic anchors for this region and they deserve to be the best in the world," Biden said.

Cuomo guided Biden through a slideshow presentation to illustrate how New York City's two major airports fared against newer airports. He noted that airports in Beijing and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, feature amenities including large hotels and conference centers and shorter mass transit times between the airports and their respective cities.

Cuomo said proposals for LaGuardia should improve transportation to the airport, including "possible high-speed ferries" and improved rail service.

At Kennedy, the state is seeking plans that include exploration of "the need to increase hotel capacity in the immediate area," Cuomo said.

Cuomo also suggested establishing a regional cargo distribution hub at Stewart to relieve Kennedy of some of its cargo duties to make room for more upgrades.

The competition will start in 30 days, and design firms will have 60 days to submit proposals. Cuomo did not specify how the winning projects would be funded, only telling reporters after the event "all options are on the table."

Meanwhile, Astorino and King again called for a U.S. travel ban on passengers coming from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. For the past two weeks, both have sought travel restrictions on the nations battling an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.

"If we don't get ahold of this now, we're going to be dealing with a major public health crisis soon," Astorino said on a conference call with reporters. "The governor has done nothing on this issue, except tried to hawk more books."

Astorino was referring to the release of Cuomo's memoir last week.

King suggested temporarily suspending the visas of travelers from the three West African nations "until we get a much better handle on this."

Cuomo, who told reporters Thursday the state had no authority to limit travel at the airports, said Monday that federal officials "should seriously consider" a ban.

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